Warnken, LLC Attorneys at Law, Attorneys & Lawyers, Pikesville, MD

Stabb v. State – Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

Stabb v. State, 423 Md. 454 (2011).

            Jury Instructions – “Anti-CSI” Instruction

The Court of Appeals addressed the “anti-CSI” jury instruction “to provide additional guidance to Bench and Bar.”  The Court first noted that since Atkins, “there have been published or made available no additional empirical studies that convince us that a ‘CSI effect’ even exists, and, if it does, whether the effect is likely to influence unduly the final verdict.”

In this case, the Defendant was accused of sexually abusing a young girl.  On cross of a State’s witness, defense counsel elicited the fact that scientific testing had not been performed on the alleged victim.  Over defense counsel’s objection the Judge instructed the jury in pertinent part: “I instruct you that there is no legal requirement that the State utilize any specific investigative technique or scientific test to prove its case.”

The Court of Appeals held that in the context of the case, the Judge abused his discretion is so instructing the jury as doing so deprived the Defendant of a fair trial under Article 21 and 23 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights.  The Court first noted that under “Atkins, [it] stated that the most important consideration in evaluating whether a trial judge abused his/her discretion in giving a scientific evidence instruction is whether ‘the instruction will run afoul of the prohibition of relieving the State of its burden where . . . its relation [of the instruction] to the reasonable doubt standard [is] unclear.’”

The Court concluded that an analysis of the exact language used in the case was unnecessary because under the facts, the giving of the “CSI” instruction was error: “In giving the ‘anti-CSI effect’ instruction to the jury, the trial court directed effectively the jurors not to consider the absence of a [scientific test] or corroborating physical evidence.  The trial court invaded impermissible the province of the jury deliberations with the given ‘anti-CSI effect’ instruction under the circumstances.  The ‘anti-CSI effect’ jury instruction given, in the circumstances of this case, was improper because it relieved the State of its burden to prove [the Defendant] was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, invaded the province of the jury, and, thus, violated [the Defendant’s] constitutional right to a fair trial.”  However, the Court of Appeals did not ban the “CSI” instruction per se, and stated that the defense counsel had made a proper closing argument and did not “harp” on the lack of scientific testing.  Thus, it appears that defense counsel may open-the-door to a “CSI” if comments on the lack of physical evidence are not “legitimate, brief, and reasonable.”